Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.

Category: Dorothy Livesay

November 28, 2011, by
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Watch the YouTube Trailer for Jesus Chrysler

by Michael Wheeler

As the artistic leaders of The Worker’s Theatre movement in Canada during The Great Depression, Dorothy Livesay (Dee) and Eugenia Watts (Jim), upon whom Tara Beagan’s new play Jesus Chrysler is based, grew up as good friends and were some of Toronto’s original radical organizers. Based out of U of T’s Hart House Theatre, the two were part of a group that staged agitprop plays that traveled throughout South-Western Ontario in Jim’s car, which they called The Jesus Chrysler.

Members of The Progressive Arts Club including Jim Watts top left. Click to enlarge.

These performances were sometimes done for a handful of interested onlookers and sometimes performed for thousands: When they performed in solidarity with mostly immigrant women cannery workers on strike in St. Catharines they were run out of town by the police. When they performed during the Stratford furniture strike at The Brooks Steam Motor plant they did so for an audience of 3,500, or twice the number that would pack a sold-out Stratford Festival Theatre today.

Eventually these artists went on to stage Eight Men Speak, widely viewed by cultural historians as a key event that motivated the release of Communist leader Tim Buck and his colleagues from the Kingston Penitentiary and signalled the end of the use of the draconian law Section 98, which could be used to jail anyone the state deemed “seditious”. Later in the 1930s, they became inspired by NYC’s Group Theatre and the works of Clifford Odets. Founding a new theatre group called Theatre of Action, they presented the Canadian premiere of Waiting for Lefty and a number of anti-fascist works.

By 1937, Jim had left for Spain where a civil war raged and she hosted a radio show, wrote articles for a progressive newspaper and drove an ambulance. Dee went on to become a major poet after the war, winning two Governor General awards and eventually becoming an officer of The Order of Canada.

Jesus Chrysler explores the complex relationship between these women and focuses on an imagined episode in and around the founding of the Theatre of Action.

Click on the image to buy tickets

Click here to go to the Facebook event page

October 24, 2011, by
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Margaret Evans (r) Plays Jim Watts, Aviva Armour-Ostroff (l) plays Dorothy Livesay in Jesus Chrysler. Photo by Will O’Hare

On Friday November 4th, Praxis Theatre is throwing a 1930s-themed party on Bay Street in the lead up to our premiere of Jesus Chrysler by Tara Beagan at Theatre Passe Muraille. We may have booked the location long ago, but in the spirit of our play, and the recent emergence of The Occupy Movement we’re going with: Praxis Theatre Occupies Bay Street.

Our last party at the same location was a big hit.

This fundraising soirée, full of gourmet food and drink alongside art, performances, and 1930s inspired music by local artists will take place in a gorgeous reception room located at 761 Bay Street on Friday November 4th from 6:30pm to 10pm.

Tickets are available on a sliding scale of $50-$75 depending on what part of the 99% you are a part of. (Don’t worry, we welcome the 1% as well – and perhaps you’d like to donate to Occupy Toronto.) This is an all-inclusive ticket, and you’ll be provided with a charitable receipt for the price of your ticket minus the value of food and drink ($25). To reserve, please email us at

More information on the fundraiser and other options for making a donation to Jesus Chrysler can be found here on the facebook event, and information on Jesus Chrysler and purchasing tickets can be found here on the Theatre Passe Muraille website.

Click here to go straight to Theatre Passe Muraille’s Canada Helps page.

Hope to see you November 4th!

February 14, 2011, by

Mother Russia and the Socialist Fatherland: Women and the Communist Party of Canada, 1932-1941. By Nancy Butler

With specific reference to the activism of Dorothy Livesay and Jim Watts.

by Michael Wheeler

Because Praxis Theatre has been researching 1930s Toronto artist/activists off and on for the past year-and-a-half, I assumed I was already aware of the content of a link sent to the creative team by Jesus Chrysler performer Christine Horne in an email she sent titled: “giant essay on jim and dee”.

As Mammalian’s Darren O’Donnell noted in the comments of a recent post here: “Assume makes an Ass out of U and Me.”

The link to the Next Year Country blog led to the document above: a 467-page Queens University PhD History thesis Nancy Butler posted for all to read via embed-able free online publishing software. (As the director of an earlier iteration of this project that included significant access to our content and process, I appreciate the availability of this work online.) The focus of Butler’s thesis are the two protagonists of the Rhubarb stage of our show Jesus Chrysler going on this week at The Rhubarb Festival: Director Jim Watts and poet Dorothy Livesay.

So if you would like a little light reading on an academic perspective of what we have been working on lately, here’s a summary of what the thesis investigates:

Through a close examination of the cultural work of two prominent middle-class female members, Dorothy Livesay, poet, journalist and sometime organizer, and Eugenia (‘Jean’ or ‘Jim’) Watts, reporter, founder of the Theatre of Action, and patron of the Popular Front magazine New Frontier, this thesis utilizes the insights of queer theory, notably those of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler, not only to reconstruct both the background and consequences of the CPC’s construction of ‘woman’ in the 1930s, but also to explore the significance of the CPC’s strategic deployment of heteronormative ideas and ideals for these two prominent members of the Party.

Get a load of this: A July 2010 post on is cited as one of the hundreds of sources used in this thesis that was just published three months ago. We have just received word that Butler will be driving into Toronto on Saturday evening to see our final performance at the Rhubarb Festival.